If small businesses are the backbone of our region’s economy, Blacksburg lawyer Jeff Mitchell is the chiropractor. Mitchell has dedicated his professional career to supporting economic development in southwest Virginia. It was the focus of his work while on the staff of former Governor Gerald Baliles and has continued for more than two decades as a practicing attorney.
“In today’s economy, I think it’s critical that we foster an entrepreneurial environment,” explains Mitchell. “There is an enormous number of businesses in our area that are not big chains, and I’ve always believed that it’s more important to have 10 businesses that create five jobs each than one big business that opens and creates 50 jobs.”
A native of Tazewell, Mitchell says he believes an attorney’s role in the start or expansion of a business should be that of a supporting cast member. “Early in my career, I realized that I enjoy working with businesses because my clients are generally always happy,” he notes. “They’re looking to sell their business, buy a business, launch a product and so on. Those are exciting moments and it’s very satisfying to be part of that.”
Despite his positive experiences in working with other business owners, Mitchell admits his own decision to become an entrepreneur wasn’t one that was easily made. “It was a traumatic time for me personally,” he recalls. “I knew it was time for me to go out on my own, but I also struggled with the uncertainty of what that might look like because I had a wife and daughter to think about and a mortgage to pay. Fortunately, I had a network of three or four people who knew me well, and at that critical moment, they were willing to give me a not-so-proverbial kick in the butt.”
Mitchell’s law firm has five people on staff, including one associate attorney and one paralegal. The firm was recognized as the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Small Business of the Year, and he has plans to eventually expand in order to better serve the far southwest region of the state. Still, he says he’s faced with the same challenges as any other small business owner.
“I have to think about hires and adding folks to our team, what kind of advertising we’re going to do, cash flow, those kind of things,” Mitchell adds. “I think we also have unique challenges in the area of competition. Fortunately, I’ve always been a glass half-full kind of person, and I think there are plenty of opportunities for folks who are doing the same thing we are.”
Mitchell has made a point to also support the community he calls home. He often utilizes interns from Virginia Tech and Blacksburg High School. “As business owners in the New River Valley, I believe we have a responsibility to provide opportunities for young people at these levels because we certainly enjoy the benefits of being here.”
A first-generation college graduate, Mitchell credits his parents and members of his hometown Rotary Club for developing his sense of community spirit. “My parents were actively involved in anything I was associated with,” he says. “So, it’s a combination of the way I was raised and mentoring I received from Rotary members who took me under their wings. Those same individuals gave me motivation as I was heading off to school at Virginia Tech to make something of myself and become a success. Most of them were Golden Hokies and I wanted to reach that same goal. Fortunately, my wife and I have been very blessed, and I’ve been able to do that.”
As for giving advice to anyone considering starting a business, Mitchell is quick to point out that the process is both easier and less expensive than most would think. “You need very little capital up front in most cases to launch a business, and you can’t be afraid of failure. Sometimes, things may not work out on your first attempt, or even your second attempt. You just have to learn from those failures and use the experiences to bounce back.”
By Mike Wade
Mike Wade is a lifelong resident of the New River Valley. He has worked as both a journalist and public relations professional for more than 20 years. He freelances as a writer, graphic designer and portrait artist.